The smell of anonymity

In that way of coincidences several people have talked to me recently about the phenomenon of ASMR, the phenomenon of noises evoking particular responses individuals. I think this can get weird quite quickly, but at a simple level it’s a familiar idea that certain sounds or smells can take us to another time or place, transported by the associations we have. Proust’s Madeleine, and all that.

I went to the studio in London that is my capital city yoga hangout, en route to lunch with a dear friend. I took in a yoga class because I was passing by, although my regular teacher there was not rostered on today. I associate the smell of the studio and the atmosphere very much with her. It was strange arriving and remaining anonymous with the substitute teacher, rather than being greeted by a genuine smile and a warm embrace. I felt a little lonely, a little unloved even, but I also enjoyed being a stranger in this class. The anonymity and lack of relationship was liberating. I’m never unknown in the classes I go to: I pretty much only ever practise with two teachers, who greet me as an individual, know the name of my husband, what job I have, all sorts of odd details about how my personal life runs and how my body works.

I don’t trust myself easily in the presence or into the hands of a yoga teacher. Two seems more than enough for me! But I’m trying to grow up a bit more (on the mat, at least!) and be confident in my ability to look after myself in the face of new challenges. So here I was with an unknown quantity of a teacher, whose online bio was just words on a screen. I had no experience of her, there were no resonances. No Madeleines.

This teacher began class by asking for a show of hands if anyone didn’t want hands-on assists. I was tempted. Previously I would have felt quite strongly that she had not earned the right to assist me so directly, to impose her insight on my body, without proving to me that she was experienced enough to do so. How could I judge if she was a safe pair of hands?

I let the moment pass, setting the intention instead to go with it as an experience, but reminding myself that I had the right, even in the moment of an assist, to move out of the pose and ask her to move away if I wanted to. In the event her assists were more mild that I expected (feared?). So now the opposite problem — they were not really firm enough to be supportive and helpful, but tangible enough to be more than a distraction. Instead of willing her away I tried to tune more deeply into her intention, translating the lightness of her touch into some anatomical insight. Perhaps a less insistent touch was actually an opportunity for me to meet myself in the posture? Could it be of greater genuine assistance than something more heavy-handed and obviously directional?

As I lay in Savasana, listening to her footsteps pattering lightly between the students, I allowed my body to be still and my heart to be full, bringing to mind my regular teachers and the way they both care for me. They are sometimes strongly insistent bringing me to places of emotional if not physical discomfort, and sometimes subtle with immeasurable grace and respect, giving me a lot of space to work things out for myself. After years of familiarity I sometimes think I would trust them with my life. Or is that just the seductive softness of savasana….?

5 thoughts on “The smell of anonymity

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  1. I think – at least right now – that trusting a teacher to hands-on assist me (let alone be responsable for my life) – is an unsettling thought. My aging body?
    My long-time teacher (who introduced me to Ashtanga Vinyasa) is now my Sanskrit teacher, and we work at a distance over FaceTime.
    My asana practice is inspired and assisted now by online tutorials given by various teachers on a website (that I LOVE).
    Our practice experiences are quite different at the moment! Maybe just different points on a continuum…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, interestingly different. My body is feeling pretty good (better than ever, actually) which gives me physical scope to work on my ‘trust issues’ — mostly I suppose because I trust myself more. It’s kind of scary, kind of amazing to allow someone to help…. But the whole topic of assists and the role of the teacher is so tricky, I agree. This is just one snapshot in my personal journey.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s an interesting time for yoga and yoga teaching. But perhaps it always has been so… I am myself ambivalent about assists, acutely aware of the potential difficulties yet with lots of positive experiences of how informative a good (mutual?) assist can be for my own learning and self development. I don’t think the debates will end any time soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, anonymous as well as deeply adjusted, even with all of the teacher’s body as they held me. What I’ve discovered is that very few teachers have the touch and they come from a place of detachment.

    Liked by 1 person

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